Blown away on Global Wind Day

From light breezes to destructive gales, today is the day to celebrate wind in all its guises. Global Wind Day is all about discovering the possibilities wind holds for changing our world for the better.

Wind energy is one of the fastest growing forms of renewable, clean energy sources on the planet, with wind farms already operating in 75 countries, and exponential growth in technology to effectively harness the power of the wind.

With New Zealand being one of the most consistently windy countries in the world, it makes sense that it is very active in wind farming research and development. Having recently covered the New Zealand Wind Energy Conference, I was blown away by the level of wind energy related activity in the country. Wind currently provides about 5% of the country’s electricity, and at its current growth rate it is expected that this figure will rise to  20% by 2030. Considering the upward trend in energy consumption, this implies a massive increase in wind energy output over the next 20 years. Interestingly, given the consistency and reliability of New Zealand’s wind resource, NZ wind farms significantly outperform the international average.

While detractors complain about the visual and noise impacts of wind farms, research results have largely refuted these arguments. (Living in the middle of New Zealand’s most active wind farming area, I find a hill covered in wind turbines aesthetically quite pleasing, to the extent that I can spend days looking for interesting new angles to photograph them!)

An imposing sight, wind energy embodies New Zealand’s “100% pure” reputation.
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Wind energy has a number of very appealing features making it an environmentally sound choice for clean economic growth:

  • Wind never runs out, making it one of the most secure sources of electricity for future generations.
  • Since wind cannot be “owned”, investing in wind energy helps provide protection against the volatility of fossil fuel markets, where price and supply is dictated by political regimes.
  • Thanks to their small footprint, wind farms have minimal impact on land use. Land owners hosting wind farms can continue their normal farm activities with little need to adapt to the presence of wind farm infrastructure.
  • Wind farming has minimal environmental impact – it does not consume water, and produces no carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, mercury, radioactive waste, particulates, or any other type of air pollution, unlike fossil fuel power sources.

Given that the global need for electricity is real and is not going to go away any time soon, the rather serene sight of a set of wind turbines on a hill sure is a heck of a lot more appealing than a destructive, polluting fossil fuel plant on the horizon!

World Meteorological Day

The theme of this year’s World Meteorological Day is “Powering our future with weather, climate and water”.  This highlights the critical roles of weather, climate and water services in powering a sustainable future for us and for generations to come.

The themes of sustainable power and energy seem quite pertinent this year, with the UN General Assembly also declaring 2012 the “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All”.  The use of renewable energies has been growing in leaps and bounds, accounting for about half of the almost 200 gigawatts of new electricity capacity added globally during 2010. According to the International Energy Agency, the renewable energy electricity sector grew by 17.8 per cent between 2005 and 2009. It currently provides nearly 20 percent of total power generation in the world.

Of the renewable electricity sources, hydro power still represents the largest sector. However, wind power has grown the most in absolute terms. The Global Wind Energy Council says the world’s wind power capacity grew by 31 per cent in 2009.

(Source: The World Meteorological Organization, http://www.wmo.int)

New Zealand has 16 wind farms either operating or under construction. These currently have a combined installed capacity of 615 megawatts, supplying about 4% of New Zealand’s annual electricity generation. This is about the same amount of electricity as 180,000 New Zealand homes use in a year. Developers are exploring sites throughout New Zealand for new wind farms. (Source: New Zealand Wind Energy Association)
This image was captured at the Manawatu wind farm during the snowy 2011 winter.
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